Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis standing in the convertible in publicity portrait for the film 'Thelma & Louise', 1991.

25 iconic closing shots from film history

Written by:
May 28, 2021
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer // Getty Images

25 iconic closing shots from film history

First impressions are important in life and in film. Often, the first shot of the film helps to establish the world audiences allow themselves to get lost in for a few hours. To invest they must be fully engaged in the fantasy world flickering on the screen in front of them. Each shot, each frame pulls them further into the story, but the final closing shot may be the most important. It can validate or destroy the fictional world audiences have surrendered to, hoping to get lost in another dimension.

Stacker compiled 25 iconic closing shots from film history, exploring the film's plot and the context of the shot using magazine and newspaper articles and film footage.

These shots include final moments of anguish, elation, surprise, and wonder. The films on the list represent a multitude of genres and decades. They leave audiences fulfilled, bewildered, and just plain thrilled to witness final moments and frames filled with brilliance.

Whether it is a storm after the film's battered hero believes he has found peace, a boy bathed in moonlight looking back at his future self, or a wondrous moment where the film's heroes go riding off into the desert sunset, join Stacker as we explore a list of 25 iconic closing shots that have helped to define cinema

Thelma & Louise (1991)

This iconic road trip movie features two women, played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, who find themselves on the run from the law. The final shot of them sailing over the Grand Canyon in a Thunderbird wasn't actually shot in Arizona, but rather in Utah, a decision made by director Ridley Scott.

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by Barry Jenkins and shot on digital, "Moonlight" tells the story of a Chiron, a Black man struggling with his sexuality and identity as he comes of age. The final sentence of the film, "You're the only man that's ever touched me," carries through the last frame, which features a young Chiron bathed in somber moonlight, seemingly looking back at the adult version of himself.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The third film in the franchise finds adventurer Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail and his missing father. While much of the action film was shot abroad in Spain, Italy, Jordan, and Germany, the final shot, featuring four men riding off into a brilliant sunset, was actually filmed in Amarillo, Texas, at the Figure 3 Ranch in Palo Duro Canyon.

Fight Club (1999)

In this mind-bending David Fincher film featuring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, two men form an underground fight club. The last shot shows the nameless narrator, after he finally comes to terms with who he really is, holding his love interest Marla's hand while they watch highrises burst into flame.

The Graduate (1967)

Mike Nichols' film about recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock and his affair with an older woman won him an Oscar for Best Director; the film received several nominations as well. The movie ends with a close-up of Benjamin and his ex's daughter Elaine as they sit at the back of a bus they just hopped, headed toward a new beginning after they finally chose each other. Their neutral expressions, however, leave the viewer wondering whether this is really the happy ending they envisioned.

She's Gotta Have It (1986)

A woman asserts her sexual freedom and juggles three lovers in Spike Lee's debut film. The final shot features Lee holding a film clapboard from the movie, looking ever the confident filmmaker. Soon, he would shoot into the stratosphere with a stellar career that has spanned decades and genres, and this shot seems to show that he knows that.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson brings audiences a film about oil prospecting at the turn of the century. In the concluding shot, seen from the butler's point of view, Daniel Plainview sits down in a bowling alley after brutally ridding himself of his enemy, which marks a pattern throughout his life—getting rid of anyone who stands in his way.

The Planet of the Apes (1968)

This science-fiction film is about a crew who lands on a planet in the distant future where talking apes rule and humans are enslaved and oppressed. The top of the Statue of Liberty lies in the sand in the telling final shot, which reveals a truth the human astronauts are not happy to face: this is Earth.

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Zac Hobson wakes up alone in the world and tries to find others, but when he does, they have their own plans. In the final shot, Zac stands on the beach watching a ringed planet and clouds that look as if they are falling into the ocean, leaving the audience to wonder about many things, including the fate of Zac's two companions.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

A romance blossoms between two men with a significant age difference in 1980s Italy in the award-winning film. The audience is left with a shot of Elio sitting by the fire as he reflects on his phone call with Oliver and settles in to grapple with the unique sadness only a broken heart can bring.

Psycho (1960)

In this classic Hitchcock film, a woman on the run finds herself staying at a hotel with a strange man and his mother, with whom he has a very close and unhealthy relationship. In the revealing final shot, Norman Bates stares straight ahead with a smirk on his face and the viewer understands that the troubled young man is no longer himself and has truly left the building after his mother has taken over.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

In Benh Zeitlin's film, 6-year-old Hushpuppy must face the harsh realities of her life in a struggling Louisiana bayou community. The final moving shot of the film features a ragtag community continuing on after the storm, weathered but not beaten.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" tells the tale of the real-life outlaws as they attempt to go on the run after a train robbery goes wrong. The final shot, a freeze-frame, features the Western outlaws dirty and battered with guns blazing, proving they will not go down without a fight. The truth about whether they died in the depicted Bolivian shootout is still debated today.

Inception (2010)

This Christopher Nolan film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a thief skilled at extracting subconscious secrets during the dream state. Viewers are left with a sense of ambiguity as Cobb's totem, a top, is left spinning on a table, leaving us to wonder whether it will continue to spin or fall—and whether this is a dream or reality.

The Rider (2017)

A young cowboy searches for himself and his place in the world after suffering a near-fatal injury in this Western. The last shot of the film is Brady's goodbye to his life as a rider, as sad as it is hopeful.

Irma Vep (1996)

A once-renowned French film director remakes a vampire film with a Chinese actress in "Irma Vep." While the whole film is an exercise in experimentation, the final shot features a blurred Maggie Cheung in a manipulated and mutilated image that becomes its own art form.

The Third Man (1949)

In postwar Vienna, novelist Holly Martins looks into an old friend's mysterious death. The final shot reveals that the film ends exactly where it began: in a cemetery where Holly waits for Anna, who walks past him.

THX 1138 (1971)

Based on an award-winning student film, "THX 1138" marked filmmaker George Lucas's film debut. The futuristic sci-fi movie stars Robert Duvall as the title character, a man who rebels against the rigid confines of a controlled society. An orange sun fills half the frame in the film's final shot, as THX emerges from the subterranean dystopia. Though the audience knows he's chosen freedom, his future remains a mystery left to interpretation.

The Lobster (2015)

In this unique love story set in a dystopian future, single people are forced to go to a hotel and find a match within 45 days, or else they will be transformed into an animal and released into the woods. At the film's close, Rachel Weisz, as the Short-Sighted Woman, sits in a diner awaiting the return of David, who is in the bathroom contemplating the true nature of love.

Amadeus (1984)

The life story of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is told from the point of view of jealous foe and fellow composer Antonio Salieri in this Milos Forman film. In a final tracking shot, Salieri is wheeled through the hectic hallway of a mental hospital.

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Casablanca (1942)

In this classic film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, an expat cafe owner, Rick, battles with whether to help an old flame and her husband escape from the Nazis in Morocco. The final shot features Rick staring into the foggy sky, alongside Captain Renault, after having watched his former love walk off toward a future without him.

A Serious Man (2009)

This Coen brothers' film features a Midwestern physics professor, Larry Gopnik, whose suburban life unravels in what many believe is a modern Job-like religious parable. Just as Larry finally appears to be getting a handle on his life, the final shot shows a tornado moving toward his son Danny's Hebrew school.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A mysterious artifact leads to a space quest and a battle between man and technology in this epic Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic. The final shot, of a baby floating in what appears to be a sac surrounded by light, left audiences wondering just what they'd watched and what it all meant. A recently discovered video featuring a man who sounds a lot like Kubrick offers one possible explanation.

The 400 Blows (1959)

This French François Truffaut film is a coming-of-age tale about a young boy, Antoine, with little supervision who commits several petty crimes. The final shot features Antoine facing the camera after running to the sea, fresh from his escape from juvie, leaving the audience to figure out what happens next.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

A screenwriter gets involved with silent film star Norma Desmond, whose light has dimmed since the talkies came along, in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard." The audience understands how far Norma is gone when they see her posing for her closeup as the police arrive in the final shot of this iconic, often parodied film.

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